JSP Vol. 13 Documents

I finally began reading my copy of Volume 13: Documents of the Joseph Smith Papers. It covers events between August and December of 1843. I have made the following observations from reading the first 44 pages of the volume:

In the front of Volume 13 there is a “Timeline of Joseph Smith’s Life” with a number of misleading entries. Here are a few:

1823 First Vision of angel Moroni.”

The histories written by Joseph Smith named the angel “Nephi” in 1838, 1839 and 1841. It would be more accurate to refer to “Nephi” or leave it with “an angel.”

1833 Bible revision ended…

Joseph never published the finished text, and continued to revise the Bible even in this volume of 1843 documents. For example, on page 38 of this same Volume 13 in a discourse on 13 August 1843 Joseph corrected the language of a passage in Malachi: “he said it should read and he shall turn the hearts of the children to the covenant made with their fathers…” (Underline in original.) It is incorrect, therefore, to state the revision ended in 1833.

1835 Organized Quorum of the Twelve Apostles…

Joseph did not call or ordain the Twelve. In 1835, the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, were asked by Joseph Smith to choose the first twelve members of the newly announced quorum of the twelve. The witnesses made their choices at a meeting on February 14, 1835. The three witnesses were also the ones who ordained the twelve chosen men as apostles between February and April 1835.

1838 Moved from Ohio to Missouri. Surrendered to Missouri Militia…

This is misleading because it would be far more accurate to say Joseph fled a mob of disaffected Kirtland residents who were trying to kill him in 1838. His flight took him to Missouri.

As for “surrendering” to the Missouri Militia, he was tricked into captivity through betrayal. While Far West was under siege, a delegation of 5 men led by George Hinckle and included Reed Peck and John Corrill, were sent to negotiate terms for a peaceful resolution. They went to meet the militia under a white flag, with instructions to “beg like a dog for peace,” because Joseph said he would “rather go to the State prison himself for twenty years or else die, than have my people exterminated.” (John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Commonly Called Mormons Including an Account of Their Doctrine and Discipline; with the Reasons of the Author for Leaving the Church, (St. Louis, 1839), pp. 40-41.)

The negotiations failed. One of the five representatives, George M. Hinckle, sent a private message to General Lucas asking to meet alone. Lucas met with Hinckle and learned there were four conditions demanded to end the conflict: 1. Give up the Mormon leaders to be tried and punished. 2. To make payment to the Missouri citizens and militia by transferring all their property, and agree to indemnify for all damages done by Mormons. 3. All Mormons must leave Missouri, and would be protected by the militia in their retreat. 4. To surrender all their arms of any description. (General Lucas Letter to Governor Boggs, November 2, 1838.)

Hinckle accepted the terms. Lucas demanded compliance with the first term by the surrender of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Parley Pratt and George Robinson immediately. He insisted it be done within an hour.

 Hinckle returned to Far West but did not disclose the terms he had accepted. Instead he only reported General Lucas would meet with Joseph and the other four leaders. They agreed. All five then went out from Far West understanding they were to be received as a delegation to discuss resolving the conflict.

Joseph did not intend to surrender on October 31, 1838. He thought he was on a visit to negotiate with the commander of the militia. Instead he and those with him were immediately seized and imprisoned. He and those who accompanied him were disarmed, chained and brought into camp as prisoners. His later account recorded, “judge of my surprise, when instead of being treated with that respect which is due from one citizen to another, we were taken as prisoners of war and were treated with the utmost contempt. The officers would not converse with us, and the soldiers, almost to a man, insulted us as much as they felt disposed, breathing out threats against me and my companions.” (DHC 3:188-189.)

1844 Revelation of plural wives and eternal marriage received.

I won’t belabor the dubious provenance for this claim, but will just state it is disputable and disputed whether this is true. Volume 13 equivocates about all the details precisely because this is a dubious part of LDS history. For example, “Smith’s first plural wife was likely…” p. xxxii, ftnote 72. “Lott and Murray were likely…” “most Latter-day Saints remained unaware that…” p. xxxiii. For these the historians are citing as support affidavits in 1869 and 1892. “It is possible Smith taught Sagers about the doctrine of plural marriage, but it is unclear…” p. xxxv. “Smith was not always successful in controlling the practice of plural marriage or putting down imitations of it.” Id. (Italics added.)

Using the Martha and Howard Coray journals as a source is dubious. The historians acknowledge that, at best, “one of them likely took nonextant notes of JS’s discourses.” P. 33. “Nonextant” means that they do not exist, and may never have existed. And on p. 36 the historians acknowledge that the Coray journals were written sometime between 1853 and 1855, a full decade or more after Joseph’s discourse.

These are a few of the things I have noted in my copy of Volume 13 in the first 44 pages. Although I am grateful for the work done to publish these documents, the historians providing the material clearly want to tell a different story than the documents alone would communicate. That is disappointing. It is not really “history” but an apology for LDS claims about events during Joseph Smith’s life to support their legitimacy as an institution. More often than not their telling of critical events is so threadbare it undermines their moral authority.